‘Cause all I ever have

IMG_1291

Note: I wrote this several days ago and never posted it. I was getting ready to write a very different piece tonight, about the writing process and Alan Cumming and connecting with others and the dog’s injury and then, somehow, it felt wrong not to acknowledge the events of last Sunday.

July 17

…and another horrifying story, this time a national one that took place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the day after I left that beautiful state. As I said, this was the first time I’ve ventured out of New Orleans, down south along the bayous to the tiny and climate-threatened Isle de Jean Charles in Terrebonne Parish, and in so doing I got a fleeting glimpse of an entirely different Louisiana. It bears little resemblance to anywhere else in the world that I’ve spent time, and I was quite taken by its beauty. See exhibit A, above.

Despite all the atrocities going on in the world and despite the personal challenges I and several people in my life face and the fact that he-who-shall-not-be-named is running for president, I left that vacation feeling some semblance of enrichment and extreme nostalgia for ten days’  worth of experiences, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And then this. Oh, this. The person-on-the-street footage of what happened in Baton Rouge is chilling. I wish I could say that that crime makes zero “sense” – but in the world in which we live, it is not out of context. It did not occur in a vacuum. And that is an even less convenient truth than the fact that it happened in the first place. This was neither the first nor the last act of extreme, divisive violence we will experience this year.

I am tired of being horrified. I’m tired of feeling helpless. I’m tired of the front page of the Times having an all-caps headline to the effect of: ANOTHER ONCE-UNTHINKABLE ACT OF VIOLENCE. And I’m tired of the flags just kind of staying at half-mast.

Let’s try to look out for one another.

…and miss it each night and day

IMG_1143

I’ve returned to my beloved hometown. Sharing what I wrote in the wee small hours of the morning, when the whole wide world was fast asleep and I didn’t have wifi:

Gearing up to leave New Orleans for the time being; I will be back in September. I love this place, and though I’m admittedly a tourist, or “an amateur”, as I’ve been called, the more I visit the less tourist/amateur I feel. I had a tiny stable of friends here to begin with, and each time I visit my circle builds which, if you know me, you know I love.

As I write this I am sitting on the porch of a beautiful home in the Bywater, on the market and owned by a friend I made in May who graciously offered it to me for my visit.

I’ve met some likeminded souls down here.

This, my twelfth visit to this place, has offered me many firsts. I had dinner at someone’s home, red beans and rice on a Monday, as is the tradition, apparently. I was taken on a road trip to points south of here, to Cajun territory on Bayous where people fish and shrimp and crab – and, naïve little city gal that I am, this was exotic and beautiful.

As I’m thinking it through, I’m realizing I’ve actually been in six people’s homes this time around.

Other firsts … let’s see … I ate borscht. I grew up eating the stuff, but I’ve never had it in New Orleans. I went to the Country Club (it’s not a country club). I stayed by myself in a reputedly haunted house. I walked a dog. I held my own at the breakfast roundtable I’ve been observing for years. I spoke French. In Whole Foods.

Friends at home ask me what I love about this place and the answers were once, probably in order, “the food, the music, the culture and history”. Now they are all of those things as well as the people, the architecture, the crepe myrtles and live oaks and Spanish moss and satsuma trees. (there is a satsuma tree behind me as we speak; I need to google “satsuma” but I’m assuming it’s not the only one in town.)

I could go on and on about why I love this town. I could talk about the most perfect iced coffee I’ve ever had, and the friendliness of the Lantern, and the fact that I’ve started to recognize familiar faces. That I’ve had some of the easiest conversations of my life here, as well as some of the more challenging. I could talk about the people I’ve just met and look forward to knowing, the animals I’ve encountered, the dog-friendliness, the sudden, perfect rainstorms (and yes, I’m well aware that rain and this town have a checkered and tragic past), I could talk about the much more logical cost of existing down here, and about the fact that the humidity makes my adamantly straight hair kind of wavy and full and what-I’ve-always-wanted-my-hair-to-look-like. And, I could talk about the fact that my writing schedule down here has been unorthodox and yet, I think I might have done some of the best writing/editing on Book that I’ve done thus far.

I could talk about all of this. And I could talk about the fact that so many horrible fucking things have happened in the world since I’ve been here, from Alton Sterling to Dallas to Nice to Turkey to Mike Pence.

Apparently the world goes even more haywire when I follow my bliss and leave New York. Hashtag magical thinking.

On a personal level, a friend died. Someone I did not know well but with whom I shared a lot, and without whom I would not have met some of the most important people in my life. I am in no way trying to take ownership of this loss and its accompanying grief; many of our mutual friends know her much better than I did. But again, if you know me, you know that I don’t really have casual friendships. I get into it, I spill my soul and I look for yours. And this friend and I talked about some fairly heavy stuff in the short time we knew each other.

This is one of the ones that will continue to sink in as time goes by.

Rest, girl. You’ve earned it, and you’re missed.

I can not move down here yet, but I will always be connected to this place.

And though I am a starry-eyed tourist and an “amateur”,  I’m not THAT bad. I mean, I spend zero time on Bourbon Street and I don’t stand in line at Café du Monde, so there’s that.

I like lists. They’re orderly and tangible. This is why I can tell you how many times I’ve been to New Orleans, and to France. This is also why I can tell you the animals I’ve encountered on this trip. In no particular order, I’ve seen or met:

Many dogs,

Many cats.

At least three buzzards.

An emu.

A potbellied pig named Snuffleupagus.

A chicken.

Two toads.

Four giraffes.

A brazen squirrel.

A porpoise.

List #2—advice/wisdom I’ve gained in the past ten days:

Don’t get caught with shrimp dust.

Don’t feed oleander to a llama.

Red fish bite best on purple plastic.

There is a breed of goats that is narcoleptic.

Purple can’t hurt purple.

I have so much more to say about the past ten days. But right now I must eat Italian food.

I love you, New Orleans. Thanks for letting me in.

Where did all the blue skies go

IMG_0940

I started to write a post on the 4th of July and decided not to publish it, didn’t finish it. I couldn’t find the words to express what I was feeling, couldn’t quite figure out how to acknowledge a celebration of our country’s freedom when so much of the world is not free. I don’t usually get political here and it felt inauthentic somehow, though my feelings were 100% sincere.

That was four days ago, and I think had a fair amount to do with a new friend I’ve made, through my cousin – a fellow who lives in Iraq. I reached out to him after the latest spate of suicide bombings in Baghdad and he was, of course, devastated and angry. He asked to see photos of the mountains and woods where I spent the long weekend; he wanted to see beauty and positivity and freedom. He sent me a photo collage of the victims of Sunday’s attacks, and it was a collection of beautiful, young, vibrant faces.

The next day there were attacks in Saudi Arabia. This week two young black men in the US have been killed by police for the “crimes” of selling music and driving with an allegedly busted tail light. Last night, snipers shot and killed five police officers in Dallas and wounded several others.

I do not know how to react to any of this. I am infuriated and saddened and tired of feeling helpless and I don’t know what my recourse is.

I do know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Donald Trump is not the answer to any of this. Hate begets hate. Intolerance begets intolerance. Ignorance is dangerous and hubris does not a successful leader make. And I do not want to speak his name more than absolutely necessary, so that’s that for now.

I am in New Orleans again, working through the final third of the book. And it is hard to concentrate on what at times seems such a trivial pursuit in light of all that is happening in the world around us. But this is my job, and so I will do it.

Since I was last here about six weeks ago, there have been terrorist attacks in Syria, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Somalia, Israel, Yemen, Pakistan–and that’s just off the top of my not-terribly-informed head. Since I was here, a monster shot and killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

There is so much to grieve in this world. And there is so much to love and admire, to those of us who are fortunate enough to live in places where we are allowed to love and admire who, what, and when we choose to.

I’ve been accused of having a Pollyanna-like outlook on things. I don’t. I’m more realistic than I let on. But there are many people who can speak of the world’s atrocities much more eloquently than I can, and I appreciate the opportunity to learn from these people and their words.

I have long been saddled with a need to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, to believe that people are inherently good. I am fortunate to have many good people in my life.

But it’s a scary, uncertain world, and I am aware of this. So if I veer toward light and love in the things I write and post and choose to talk about, do not mistake it for blindness. I can’t fix all the bad, and so I choose to try my best to contribute more good.

Time for coffee and Chapter Ten.

Stuck in the middle with you

IMG_0660

My friend (Michel) sent me a meme (don’t love that word) that said: Writer’s block: when your imaginary friends won’t talk to you. That sums it up fairly well. Mine are talking to me, but they’re all talking at once and it’s very hard to decipher their individual voices. I need someone to work crowd control, but then he or she would need a storyline, and I’d be right back where I started (from).

In college I read the Luigi Pirandello play “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” in which six unfinished characters interrupt the rehearsal of a play because they’re desperate to find a writer to finish their stories. They’re in a sort of purgatory until they do. I wrote a little piece for writing group last year based on this concept; my characters gathered in the bar (my characters spend an awful lot of time in the bar) discussing where I’d left them. The ones with marked characteristics and clear voices were relatively okay, but the others were pissed.

I’d always heard that, when writing fiction, characters can come to life and drive the story. This is my experience with this novel; I’d thought I knew who my main character was until the person who became my main character claimed the spotlight; it took me a while to fully realize that this is her story.

Her name is Josie, short for Josephine. About a year and a half ago I met a Josephine at a party; I commented that that was my protagonist’s name, and she asked what she was like. So I told her that she wasn’t always my protag, but eventually she became the most important character in the story. Non-fiction Josephine laughed and said, “That sounds about right.” A year and a half later she is one of the most important people in my life.

Lots of synchronicity in the long, drawn-out writing of this book …

Most exciting development of late … I might finally have my title. I need to mull it over extensively before I commit, though. Titles are hard.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m also writing a pilot with my oldest (in longevity of relationship) friend Tara. It’s been really interesting working on these projects simultaneously, and as different as they are, there have been a lot of parallels in the process. Both stories needed extensive backstory written and then cast aside in order to get to the heart – or the bloodline, as my coach says – of the plot.

Tara has been invaluable in the novel-in-progress as well. She’s a voracious and careful reader and has read my chapters and given me excellent feedback. This is crucial. Without her, and my coach, and my writing group, and other helpful sets of eyes, I would be operating without a net. With the village that is helping and encouraging me in this project (and you know who you are, even those who don’t wish to be named in this forum), I feel fairly confident that I will not leave gaping plot holes and red herrings and guns in act one that don’t go off by act three. Can’t remember who said that – feel free to comment if you know (Mom).

I am going back to my muse city, as JC calls it, in a couple of weeks. I’ve been warned and warned again about the heat and humidity and mosquitoes, but never having experiences Nola in the summer, I know that this is something I must do. For the book’s sake. I have resigned myself to the fact that I will spend the week slathered in sunscreen and bug spray and depending on the kindness of strangers’ air conditioners.

Much more to say on the subject of this upcoming trip, but I shall save it for another post.

I travel extensively in my dreams. While asleep the other night I visited New Orleans, India (there were sharks in the Ganges!) and a cross between Marrakesh and Namibia. Been trying to keep track of my dreams by writing them down. 3AM handwriting aside, this is an interesting process. By writing them down when they’re fresh in my insomniac mind, I am able to recall the emotional imprint of the dreams, not just the storyline.

I will leave you with this. I was watching something late, late one night in which a psychiatrist and a few other professionals were discussing the basic rules to human interaction – what one or two guiding principles help us get along with others. So I wrote down some thoughts and came up with this: meet people where they are. I mean this figuratively, though if you’re my friend in real life you know this also applies to my love of proximity to my home. But really, meet people where they are, accept their limitations, and don’t hold them up to improbable standards. You can expect the best from someone while still embracing imperfection.

And now back to my possibly titled book.

Looking over my yesterdays

Scan 2

Continuing my trip down memory lane, I went through that last box that had been in storage. I found this masterpiece as well as three books that I wrote when I was somewhere between the ages of six and eight. There was a Torah-style Halloween story, written before I learned which way to staple the pages, a first-person narrative about a 12-year-old boy who had a run of great luck, called “Yeah for Today”, and my favorite, the riveting tale of a group of feline musicians called “The Cat Band”.

In Chapter One, a cat named Lenard [sic] decides to “have a band”. He phones his friends Pierre, Fuzzy, Arthur, and Montecon, and all agree that having a band is a fine idea. Rehearsal is going swimmingly until two of the band members clash over the hour; apparently it’s midnight and the neigbors [sic sic] are sleeping.

Things look tense for a moment until Pierre opens Chapter Two with a witty anecdote from his days “back at France”; laughter ensues.

Enter: Wendy, a “very, very, very pretty cat” who walks into our boys’ lives at the start of Chapter Three and promises them a gig at the Cat Rock And Roll Meowy Theatre. The boys head down, sign a contract (yep, I’m an agent’s daughter), and perform to a packed room, with Wendy as backup dancer. The book ends on a high note, with the promise of many more shows to come.

Somewhere along the line the artist formerly known as Fuzzy changes his name to Fluffy.

 

Speaking of hep cats, I’m learning a new song with my voice teacher: Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans? That was on the roster of songs we were going to learn even before I went back down in March. It’s a challenging one, and I love it.

And since I do know … hoping to get back down in July, when it will be humid and sultry (it’s always sultry) … the New Orleans chapters of the book I’m avoiding writing take place in summer, so I must ignore my aversion to being uncomfortably hot and embrace it instead.

Next Saturday there will be a Second Line to honor pets, those who have passed and those who are still with us. My Louie will be represented in poster form … Lou-on-a-stick. Photos TK.

I met someone last night who lives in Billie Holiday’s old apartment in Sheridan Square. Apparently the building used to house the jazz club Café Society, reputedly the first integrated jazz club in the country, and artists lived upstairs. Very cool. All roads lead to New Orleans.

Back to book …

And you wanted to dance so I asked you to dance

IMG_0204

It’s been suggested that I increase my social media footprint so as to amass legions and legions of followers who will bode  well for the potential publication of this book. Ergo (yes I did), if we run in the same circles on Twitter and Snapchat and Friendster and Grindr and What’s App, you may find me repeating myself. Find me repeating myself.

Last night I had dinner with good friends who live down here. When we made this plan a couple weeks ago, they mentioned that friends were playing at One Eyed Jacks. It came up a couple more times with no more specificity. I was on the fence about going out after dinner and they added that, oh yeah, their friends are Eagles of Death Metal.

Talk about burying the lead.

As you probably know, Eagles of Death Metal are the band that was playing the Bataclan in Paris during the horrendous events of last November 13. I was not at all familiar with the band or their music, but of course I knew of them, and of course I felt some kind of self-indulgent kinship toward them because of the whole Paris thing. And the whole human thing. I didn’t know that they had ties to New Orleans, too, but there you go.

Eagles of Death Metal and I have so much in common.

So we went to the show after dinner and we were on the list and we got to hang out upstairs and visit with my friends’ friend – the handsome fellow 0n the left – and the show was excellent.

It had never occurred to me that I might see them someday, and I’m grateful that the fates allowed me to.

Today I got a friends and family discount because I recognized the woman at the shop from the show last night

Eagles of Death Metal basically bought me a lipstick.

More music tonight, more book tomorrow.

Laissez les bons temps, etcetera.

 

Down in New Orleans

13244899_10154259475279903_7661912383271813379_n-1

This’ll be a quickie as the day’s gotten away from me … but I’m back in this lovely town for a short writing retreat. I had every intention of writing between visits, and it just didn’t work out that way … all of my writing energy went into the book and another project, about which more later, as my mama would say.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been here in May and this is my first time visiting during “termite-swarming season”. According to my dear host, said swarming takes place around 8pm, but doesn’t last too long. At 8pm last night I was blissfully tucked away at Three Muses, on Frenchmen Street, eating dinner and hearing great music … can’t recall the name of the trio and don’t want to break the momentum to look it up but I’ll get back to you on that detail.

The good news is I’ve missed “Bucket Moth Caterpillar season” wherein, according to the aforementioned host, large caterpillars spin and drop from the trees, stinging whomever they land upon in the process.

It’s a town full of colorful characters, of the two- four- and 600-legged varieties.

Every season is cat season, and one can easily get turned around should one decide to follow a group of stray cats and take photos. Happened to a friend of mine.

So  the book … major changes are in the works, which is daunting and exciting. I won’t bog you down with the  details but there is going to be extensive chopping and moving and killing of darlings before this draft is through. Turns out my story begins much further into the current plot than I’d intended … and according to my coach this is often the case, that first-parts-of-books wind up on the cutting room floor.

I am attending a writing conference in August, my first ever, and will have the terrifying opportunity to pitch the book in what is essentially speed-dating with literary agents. So I will  be immersed in it between now and then and will probably babble about it a fair amount.

I had lunch at the friendly and haunted Muriel’s yesterday . Dined at the bar and chatted with the same bartender I met last time around, the one who filled me in on the ghostly happenings there, including one involving her departed mother. She remembered me and I told her that I’ve thought of the story about her mom a bunch since then. A few minutes into our conversation, one of her mom’s favorite songs came on the radio—an obscure tune by a one-hit wonder (her words) whom her mother loved and saw live once. I assumed it was her own playlist but no, she explained calmly,  it was the radio—her mom had been around a lot lately, to the point of occasional distraction. Still, she said, her worst fear is not being able to feel her anymore—a line that went straight into the book. Not being an expert on these matters I don’t know what the chances of this happening are, but I hope for her sake that it doesn’t.

The gentleman sitting next to me told me that he, too, had a ghost story from Muriel’s. Seems this fellow’s sister was in town and he took her there for lunch and showed her the seance room upstairs. They took photos of one another and in all the photos of him, there was a mysterious glowing orb hovering, which was likely Antoine, the restaurant’s shimmering resident ghost. I asked to see one of the photos and didn’t have the heart to point out that it was a selfie he’d taken in the mirror. With flash.

Whatever gets you through the night.

 

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?

IMG_0721

People in New Orleans love to talk about New Orleans. The city is a love letter to itself in the most beautiful way, a celebration of the things that set it apart from everywhere else. Though I was there a few weeks post-Mardi Gras, it’s decorated for it all year round, and for other holidays, regardless of season:

Decorated for Halloween and mardigras all year round

IMG_0621

As I mentioned, this was my tenth trip down there and it was every bit as inspiring and magical as any visit I’ve made. I spent the week researching, writing, seeing friends and meeting strangers … and, since the writing component was the original impetus, I am happy to report that I met my goal. On to Draft Three!

That city is my muse.

In New Orleans you have to be okay with things not necessarily going as planned, but going, instead as they’re meant to. It’s a city of happenstance, of making a wrong turn and winding up just where you should  be, of sitting next to a stranger at a bar who knows the answer to a question you’ve had for years.

I have some cool stories of happenstance from this trip, stories that I will share here soon.

While I was there I had to fulfill a short creative assignment and I came up with this; pardon the repetition:

It’s said that once you drink the water here you’ve no choice but to return; it becomes a part of you. It seeps into your soul, this magical corner of the world where the streets are paved with music and the trees drip Spanish moss, wind chimes, and Mardi Gras beads.

It’s voodoo and gumbo and Zydeco, shotgun shacks and Creole cottages in purple, gold, and green, and every color in between.

Street corner musicians dance among black cats and Indians and the tarot card readers of Jackson Square.

It’s a beautiful love letter to itself, this town, to its past and its present, to Louis Armstrong and Storyville, the Fleur de Lys and Marie Laveau.

Here the dead have joie de vivre, and the local spirits are as much a part of the fabric of life as brass bands, second lines, Dr. John, and crawfish.

Once you’ve been here, indeed, you can never forget what it means to miss New Orleans.

 

Arm-in-arm down Burgundy

IMG_0595

That’s a line from Tom Waits’ “I Wish I Was in New Orleans” … I’m posting this from my writer’s bungalow on Burgundy Street (pronounced burGUNdy). There are so many songs, great ones, written about this town. And so many wind chimes in this neighborhood; that’s the soundtrack to my writing, wind chimes and ceiling fans.

My local breakfast joint (as my dad would say) is in a former bank that was allegedly robbed by Bonnie and Clyde back when Bonnie and Clyde were robbing banks.

I love the history of this town, the good, the bad, the macabre. I lunched at Muriel’s on Jackson Square, which plays a role in my book through the suspension of disbelief that fiction requires; my book is set in 1999 and Muriel’s wasn’t Muriel’s until 2001. I need to get past that … can’t be a perfectionist in fiction. Right? Right.

Muriel’s is haunted. The building was a grand mansion that was partially destroyed in the Good Friday Fire of 1788. After that it was a private residence owned by Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan, who now goes by Antoine. In 1814 Antoine wagered his house in a poker game … and lost. Before he was to move out, he hung himself in one of the upstairs lounges—now Muriel’s séance lounge:

IMG_0646

The restaurant keeps a table set for Antoine and a guest:

IMG_0650

I spoke with bartenders and diners who’ve had experiences here. Glasses hurled across the room, glowing orbs, that cold feeling that shoots up the back of your neck when you are in the presence of a ghost. Disembodied voices.

You feel something when you’re standing at Antoine’s table. And the room where he died is colder than the rest, though that may very well be the restaurant’s doing. If owned a restaurant with a resident ghost, I’d probably make his room a bit colder to toy with the nonbelievers.

I wasn’t sure how traveling alone would be for me … as you know, I don’t like to do many things alone … but this has been wonderful. With the exception of the plans I’ve made with friends here, my agenda has been entirely my own. Traveling this way has also given me the opportunity to talk to people I’d probably not meet otherwise, like the theremin player with the Louisiana Philharmonic who was at the breakfast roundtable I joined on Monday. I resisted the urge to regale him with this gem: I’m thinking of selling my theremin; I haven’t touched it in years. 

Thank you folks, I’ll be here all week.

 

When it drizzles

IMG_9441

Good job on the weather front, Paris … it’s raining now, a light, steady rain that woke me up and is beautiful to listen to. Perhaps this will cool things down to a crisp 85 degrees (celsius folk: je m’excuse). I was mid-dream that I was organizing Christmas decorations under my bed. I need to clear a lot of clutter when I get home. And other things I’ve been saying for decades.

One of the lovely side effects of travel is that one (this one, anyway) can’t help but hit a re-set button; it offers a break from the day-to-day we get so caught up in that we can’t imagine finding time to implement much needed changes. Both of my travel companions have made resolutions of sorts on this trip, and I have too though I’ve not yet articulated them. But, basically, all the stuff that I’ve been avoiding starting and ending because it’s simply been easier not to needs to be addressed, and so it will.

In a few hours, hopefully after I’ve slept some more, we will go to the Musee d’Orsay, another of my favorite places here. When I spent the semester here I took an art history course and spent a lot of time there “studying”. My final paper was on Seurat; I remember writing it (by hand) in the kitchen chez Madame Francoise, the woman I rented a room from while I was here. It was a much different time; calling home meant waiting outside of phone booths and then trying to get everything into a conversation before impatient Parisians informed me that my time was up. I wrote, and received, so many letters then; the handwritten letter — what a quaint concept. I miss those crazy things. I’ve said this here before.

If anyone wants to write me a letter, I promise I’ll write back.

The light is changing and I’m tempted to take more photos. This city is relentlessly photogenic, from every angle, from the grand, recognizable monuments to the arbitrary side streets, the rooftops and courtyards and food and dogs and people.

Another amazing meal last night, at La Rôtisserie de la Tour, which is the sister restaurant to La Tour d’Argent … and is affordable, where it’s world-famous, Michelin-starred older sister isn’t. We shared everything, and had (vegans, stop reading): amuses bouches of duck pâté en croute, sautéed mushrooms a la Provencale (I’ve had this here before; it is difficult to put into words how sumptuous this chef is able to make a plate of mushrooms), escargots, confit de canard, ile flottante, and mousse au chocolat. Pretty standard fare that, in the right hands, is art.

The richness of the cuisine we are eating here is almost offset by the amount of walking we are doing. Almost.

Back to bed for a few. À bientôt, mes amis.